USTA Tennis Conference 2011

Tennis Player Pic

I spent this past weekend at the USTA Tennis Performance & Injury Prevention Conference.  I always enjoy going to events like this and learning new things.  I also think that listening to the perspectives of others helps to make your mind work.  It forces you to rethink the way that you have always done things.  Hopefully this makes me a better coach.

The presenters did an excellent job of giving info that was useful for all that were in attendance.  This says a lot because the audience was made up of individuals with all types of backgrounds – MD’s, Athletic Trainers, Physical Therapists, Tennis Coaches, and Strength & Conditioning Coaches from a multitude of settings.  Presentations covered the biomechanics of the tennis strokes, strength and conditioning, warm ups, and there were many sessions on injuries specific to tennis.  While each speaker had their own experiences and point of view to share, many of the presenters ended up “on the same page” with some of their advice.  There also didn’t seem to be any big egos present among the presenters or attendees.  To top it all off, the USTA did a great job of making everything was run smoothly.

I learned a lot about that not only will help me when I train tennis players, but some of the info will help me to train other athletes also.  Look for some of tidbits that I learned in my future blog posts and newsletters.

Mark

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The Athletic Position For Sports

The Athletic Position

No matter what sport the athlete plays I’ve always been a big believer in teaching them the role of the athletic position (or stance) while training them.  It plays a huge role for athletes in sports such as volleyball, football, baseball, tennis, and basketball.  While I think that many coaches try to get their athletes into this position, I’m not sure that they try to explain the importance of this stance to them.

Beach Volleyball Pic

What is an athletic position?

An athletic stance is one in which your feet are about shoulder width apart, your weight is centered on the balls of your feet, your knees and hips are flexed, your torso is leaning slightly forward, and your head and shoulders are up.

Why Is It Important?

While for many athletes, being in an athletic stance my come somewhat naturally, that may not be the case for all of them.  Athletes need to be comfortable in this stance and they need to be able to get into (and out of) this stance quickly.  Why?  Because this stance is involved in many sports.  This stance is the one that athlete get into before jumping vertically, it is a defensive position in basketball, it is part of a power clean, and the list goes on and on.  If you look at the beach volleyball picture above, the 2 players that are on the ground are in variations of an athletic stance.  It’s true that neither one is a perfect example, but we are also looking at an isolated picture.  Think about the position that the two other players were in just one second earlier. Right before they jumped, they both would have been in an athletic stance so that they could maximize their vertical jump.  Athletes may only stay in an athletic stance for a brief time, but they must be comfortable getting into and out of that stance. If not, it will impact their speed of play and efficiency.

Make sure 

Make sure to include teaching of the athletic stance in your training.  It plays a vital role in many sports and your athletes need to be comfortable in the stance.  They also need to understand why this stance is important, not only for their specific sport or position, but also the role that it plays in jumping and other skills.  With today’s athletes asking “why” more and more, this may help them to understand the importance of this position better.

Mark

 

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Building The Agility Toolbox

Tools Pic

Are you giving your athletes the right tools to succeed?

Many times when I talk about agility training to my athletes, I explain to them that I am trying to give them a set of “tools” to help them to compete better. I like using the analogy of tools because I feel that it works well for what we are trying to accomplish.  As I tell the athletes, most of us have a toolbox at home.  It usually has a hammer, screwdrivers, wrenches, pliers, etc.  If I need to hammer a nail, I go and get the hammer.  If I need to loosen a bolt, I grab a wench.  In some situations I don’t need the hammer, and in some situations I don’t need a wrench.  I pick the most appropriate tool for the task and use it. It doesn’t matter what sport an athlete plays – football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, or anything else, many of the agility movements are hard to predict and practice for.  My job is to give athletes the tools (skills) and teach them how to use them.  I explain to them that once they are in a competition, I want their body to be able to react by instantly making the most efficient movement possible at that moment.

How do I accomplish this?

  • Evaluate the athlete and the skills that are needed for their sport
  • Teach them the basic skill(s) that they need to learn
  • Have them learn simple drills using the skills
  • Once they have begun to improve, make the drills more complex

It’s really just basic coaching/teaching.   I do try to show my athlete what I want them to learn out of each drill and help them to understand why the skill is important in their sport.  When they have gotten better at a particular skill or drill, I will make the drill more complex.  I do this by either adding a reaction component or incorporating another skill at some point in the drill.  Either of these will make things more difficult for the athlete and will further begin to cement that skill into their “toolbox”.  As the drills get more complex, it also takes them closer to the point of being sports specific.  I know, the only thing that is truly sports specific is playing the sport itself.  We still need to strive to get drills as close to what may happen in a sport as possible.  This definitely includes making the athlete react to something as part of a drill.  (I’ll write more about this in a later post).

When you plan out agility training, make sure that you are stocking your athletes toolbox with tools that they can use.

Mark

 

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3 Reasons to Use a Tennis Ball During Drills

Tennis Ball

What can a tennis ball do for your training?

Sports performance people are always looking for new ideas to use when training athletes.  I thought that I would share something that has had good results with my athletes.  One of the things that I like to use during agility and ladder drills is a tennis ball.  Now, I don’t use it all of the time and I don’t use it with beginning athletes. Otherwise, I try to find ways to incorporate it into the drills frequently.  I have them catch it during the drill, catch it as they finish a drill, catch it and toss it back to me, or anything else that I can come up with.  So why do I use it?

Reasons To Use A Tennis Ball

  1. It forces the athlete to keep their head up.  I understand an athlete keeping their head down while doing ladder drills for the first few times.  However, as one coach used to tell kids “The ground has been there for millions of years.  It’s not gonna move.”  Once the athlete has a feel for the movement, they need to keep their head up.  If you play sports with your head down you’re in deep trouble.  This is when I will toss them a tennis ball during the drill.  It forces them to keep their head up (or get bopped in the nose).
  2. It makes drills more complex.  You should always have a way to progress a drill.  It should start out simple and then progress to something that is more complex.  When you add something to a basic ladder or agility drill, it makes it more complex.  In sports, athletes have to adapt and react to what is happening on the court or field. They must make combine simple actions into more complex ones.  By making an athlete catch or throw a tennis ball while doing a drill, you have taken a simple action (footwork to complete the drill) and made it more complex.
  3. Helps teach transitions.  Almost any sport is full of transitions from one action or speed to another action or speed.  Think of a soccer player running up the field who must then trap a ball that is passed to him.  He has to transition from pure running to the action of trapping the ball.  By incorporating a tennis ball at the end of a drill, an athlete is forced to change from one action (the drill) to another (catching the ball).  The goal is to make this transition as smooth and quick as possible. I like to have an athlete catch the ball at the end of a drill and then sprint a few steps.  This forces them to transition from the drill to the catch and then again to the sprint.

Now, I’m sure someone is wondering why I use a tennis ball and not some other type of ball.  I do admit that for true sport specificity, a tennis ball may not be the best thing.  If you are training a football player, you should use a football.  However, I do have my reasons for using tennis balls:

  • Tennis balls are fairly harmless so if the athlete doesn’t catch it, there isn’t any danger.
  • Tennis balls are cheap.
  • Tennis balls are easy to keep with you.
One additional bonus is that working a ball into a drill tends to make it more interesting and challenging for your athletes.  Sometimes a simple addition like that to a drill will liven things up and break the monotony.  Give it a try!!!
Don’t forget to visit our main Sports Upgrade site.
Mark
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